November 28, 2022

Libraries, Ebooks, and Beyond: Tablets in the Classroom


Looking for ways to get kids excited about using tablets at school? “Put student creativity first,” says Carolyn Foote, a participant in School Library Journal and Library Journal’s “The Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks, and Beyond,” an October 17 online event exploring how schools are transitioning from print materials to digital media.

Foote is an expert on such things. She recently oversaw a successful 1:1 iPad implementation at Westlake High School in Austin, TX, where she is district head and high school lead librarian. Allowing students creative freedom means giving them a range of great apps to work with—and letting them use other ones, too. Arm them with apps like PaperPort Notes and Explain Everything—and be open-minded when students craft their presentations from Puppet Pals instead of PowerPoint.

And what are her main principles for successfully transitioning to digital tools? Personalization, flexibility, and trust, says Foote, one of four panelists in a one-hour session called “Tablets in the Classroom: New Strategies, New Solutions,” moderated by Jeffrey Hastings, an SLJ columnist and librarian at Highlander Way Middle School in Howell, Michigan. Personalization means allowing students to tailor their devices by downloading apps to suit their learning styles—and wallpaper to express their personal styles. Flexibility means letting students hold on to the devices 24/7 and, for a fee, over the summer. It also means librarians loosening up some time-honored rules and teachers stepping out of their “teacher silos” and adapting to change and collaborative learning. Trust means believing that students will take care of the devices and use them educationally, according to Foote.

Combined, these factors allow the students “ownership of the iPads in a psychological sense,” says Foote, and a feeling that they “own the learning” as well. Practical example of the iPad in day-to-day use: For homework, teachers send assignments in PDF form, which the students complete by using the apps Notarize and neu.Annotate, also used for grading.

At New Canaan (CT) High School, where panel participant Michelle Luhtala is department chair, “most of our students have their own devices,” she says. They are free to bring them in, and other students can borrow from the school’s 10 iPods or 12 iPads.

But Luhtala stresses that students having devices does not necessarily mean students using them well: a survey showed that 58 percent of her students hadn’t accessed the library’s ebooks (and her library won AASL School Library Program of the Year in 2010), and 71 percent did not have an ereader on their devices. What to do? While Luhtala embeds instruction in the school’s online learning portal, she stresses that basic go-to strategies like visiting classrooms for 10 minutes to make sure students had the library app can be enormously effective. Unlike Foote, she’s not a fan of loaning devices overnight. “Students do not need ownership,” says Luhtala, and loans can lead to an “app management challenge.”

Lisa Perez, Network Library Coordinator for the Chicago Public Schools Department of Libraries, described implementing two grants in several Chicago schools: the  “iPads in the Library” program, to support librarians’ research on iPad use and the “VITAL Grant”, focusing on iPads in high schools.

While Perez was “jazzed that we won the grant,” she asked, “How do we make it work?”

Of course, schools that won the grant had to agree to attend training sessions. But there were organizational challenges, too: how to sync devices and how to handle the fact that so many different grade levels would be using the same devices. Her solution? Color-coding the iPads by using different-colored skins and covers corresponding to age-appropriateness, and establishing “cloned devices within smaller groups. All the iPads have some of the same apps: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote,” she says. “Within that, they’re geared toward more specific grade level topic areas.”

And what’s happening in the classroom? IPads level the playing field. “The shy kids were motivated by the iPad to begin to interact with each other in the library, which had great carryover into the classroom,” she says. Her students can bring Nooks home overnight. “Kids feel safe bringing those home,” she says.

Like the majority of participants, Julie Bohnenkamp, Director of Technology for Centergrove Community School Corporation in Suburban Indianapolis favors the Apple tablet. “The iPad can be customized to students’ exact skill levels, she says.

Bohnenkamp described her process of utilizing a $200,000 DOE grant to bring iPads into schools. She launched her initiative with kindergarteners, special-ed students, ENL classrooms, and high schoolers. The results were pronounced among ENL users: in addition to writing, reading, and speaking English much faster than before, the ENL students were far less withdrawn. Bohnenkamp provided hard data on iPads’ effect on kindergarten behavior: 79 percent of students with iPads completed work on time, compared to 56 percent who did not. 73 percent with iPads were organized and prepared, compared to 45 percent without. And 90 percent of iPad users asked for help when needed, versus 60% without. Additional stats are on the school site, along with Bohnenkamp’s app recommendations for kindergarten and special ed groups.

An obvious boon in the digital shift is thousands of dollars of savings in paper costs, not to mention a possible future without scanners: taking a picture of a document and uploading it to Google Docs eliminates the need for a scanner at all, as one panelist noted.

Like her fellow panelists, Bohnenkamp sees a huge plus in the iPad’s “increased focus on ‘student created’ projects.” She says, “It’s not just about recall. It’s about creation.”



  1. Thanks for a great article about this topic. We are talking about it in Denmark as well.